Blood drive continues to ban sexually active gay men

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

The Student Center is hosting an American Red Cross blood drive later this week. However, men who have had sex with another man since 1977 will not be permitted to donate.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer advocates say these restrictions highlight oppression of the gay community.

In 1983, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the American Red Cross, placed a lifetime ban on blood donation from any gay or bisexual man who has had gay sex because of the AIDS epidemic, according to its website. There was no on-the-spot test available at the time to determine whether an individual carried the disease.


As scientific developments and knowledge of HIV—the virus responsible for causing AIDS—continued to grow, the FDA announced a shift in the lifelong exclusion of gay men.

On Dec. 23, the agency said instead of banning gay and bisexual donation for life, it will accept donations from gay men who have not had sex in a year.

Dan Fox, the American Red Cross communications manager, said the organization believes permanent deferral for men who have sex with other men should be changed. 

A release from the American Red Cross said the policy is being reviewed. However, it stated it is important to note that the evaluation process is beginning and the lifetime blood donation ban for gay and bisexual men is still in place.

“The process to change this will take time,” it read. “We will review the draft guidance that is scheduled to issue in 2015, and will implement the guidance as soon as possible after it is finalized.” 

The FDA said some kind of barrier is still necessary to keep the blood supply safe, according to The New York Times. The rules also do not allow donations from anyone who has traveled in countries commonly afflicted with malaria, and has a year-long bar for heterosexuals who have injected drugs or had sex with prostitutes.

The article stated the new rule may be seen as a major stride toward ending what many had seen as a national policy of prejudice.


Some believe the rules are still discriminatory.

“That’s not progress at all,” said Justin Broom, an openly gay SIU student. “It’s nowhere near. Asking anyone to not have sex for a year if they’ve already been sexually active is not realistic.”

Broom, a freshman from Lincoln studying radio and television and theater, said he was furious when he discovered he could not donate blood.

“It shows there’s this stigma of gay men and AIDS, and that nothing has changed from the ’80s,” he said.

A social media campaign called the “Celibacy Challenge,” initiated by organizations including the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, oppose the FDA’s new ruling.

The satirical campaign features Scottish-American actor Alan Cumming as its star, playing the role of the fictional Head of the Deparment of Sexual Abstinence.

In a public service announcement for the project, Cumming offers suggestions for what potential donors can do to distract them from sex in their 12-month-long celibacy before giving blood.

Taking a pottery class, practicing yoga and joining a civil war reenactment are just some of the time-consuming, sexually-distracting activities mentioned.

“Or, sign our petition and share this video to pressure the FDA to change its questionnaire so donors are screened based on their exposure to risk and not their sexual orientation,” Cumming said.

Though the campaign offers a humorous take on the subject, equality for people despite their sexual preferences remains an issue.

“Stereotypes have no place in saving lives,” GLADD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement on the organization’s website. “The FDA’s proposed change still means that countless gay and bisexual men will be turned away from blood banks simply because of who they are.”

Participants are urged to answer truthfully on their questionnaires above, Fox said. The rule is enforced primarily through an individual’s answers.

Regardless of answers to the questions asked, after a blood drive, all donations are required to be tested before getting shipped for transfusion, Fox said. The tests can detect various diseases, such as HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.

Because this test is readily available, Broom said he does not understand the problem of gay men donating blood.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “It’s discrimination, and it needs to be changed now. But I mean, if you don’t want my blood… more for me.” 

The FDA disputes the claims that their rules are prejudiced, however.

According to its website, the agency’s deferral policy is based on the increased risk of certain infections associated with male-to-male sex that are spread through transfusion. He said it is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.

Fox said the American Red Cross is optimistic the FDA’s new rule will lead the future of blood donation.

“We are excited to see what the future brings,” he said. “Hopefully it brings more donors.” 

The blood drive takes place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 23 and 24 at the Student Center.

Jessica Brown can be reached at [email protected].